Hippies are viewed as the essence of a counter-culture who felt distressed with mainstream society in the 1960s. They challenged widely accepted cultural practices and generated an alternative lifestyle for themselves and peers.
The hippie era was encouraged to express their feelings and to satisfy their inner selves, deviating from the 1950s conformity. Hayden (1962) refers to hippies who promoted unprecedented individualism and a re-examination of the conventional code of conduct. A cultural revolution across the United States and in other Western cultures was profound. It had a significant impact on the lifestyles and values of hippies and on society in general.
The baby boomer generation came into the world after World War II. They were products of a generation born in the 1920s, which had survived a depression lasting a decade. In contrast, their children were born into a child-orientated society, with no recollection of the hard times and sacrifices endured by their parents. The generation born in the 1960s grew up when parents adhered to the rules and teachers were changing and conflicting.
The strong economy allowed for more disposable income than in previous generations, where baby boomer parents enjoyed the delayed gratification of the ‘American Dream' – marriage, children, cars, televisions and homes in the suburbs. This era of prosperity meant baby boomer parents could afford for their children to have a better and easier life than they had, aspiring toward higher education for their children.
The 1960s saw a significant proportion of the baby boomer generation attending college, with up to 20 million in higher education in the United Stated by the end of the decade. Students were exposed to new ideas and issues about people and the wider world. This exposure led to an increased awareness of different points of view and attitudes that often clashed with their own. The move from a student's hometown to the college experience opened their eyes to a different world, turning campuses into social reform environments for counter-culture lifestyles. It was seen as a rebellion against the middle-class conformity of their parents' generation.
An outrageous lifestyle is a significant marker of this movement. Hippies wore brilliantly colored T-shirts with psychedelic designs. This fractured harmony of clothing co-ordination can be seen as a protest against capitalist society's etiquettes about fashion. Hippie clothes also reflected a proclaimed common cause of workers of the world, a utilitarian fare that came to be known as "anti-fashion."
The hippie generation developed an ecological consciousness of fashion by recycling vintage clothes and recreating new clothes from old fabrics and hangings. Sociologists suggest that hippie fashion had a tacit message to the mainstream industry, resonating with the burgeoning women's liberation movement. Other characteristics of hippies included listening to ‘acid-rock,' having long hair, taking drugs and the iconic use of flowers and the peace sign. These elements embody the stereotypical elements of hippies as a gentle and passive rebellion.
Brown (1967) explains hippies were and are not an organised group. They held beliefs in freedom to "do your own thing" or "if it feels good and doesn't hurt anybody, do it" notions. Hippies were generally from a middle-class background, well-educated and usually aged between 17 and 25.
It is reported that in 1966 the media in San Francisco referred to hippies as beatniks, while in New York the press labeled them as the "new bohemians". Various aspects attributed to hippies included girls with long hair, boys with beards and ‘inter-racial couples' wearing boots and bell-bottom pants. Followers of the movement attended poetry readings or experimental theater and boosted the growth of underground magazines. Icons such as LeRoi Jones, Yoko Ono, Andy Warhol and Dick Higgins are associated with the new arts renaissance and hippie revolution.
The baby boomers of the 1960s did not experience, know or understand hard times. This generation of mostly white, middle-class, young adults were ambivalent about following conformity to the defined issues relating to gender, race, materialism and inequality. Many found themselves confronted with whether to embrace the current status quo or challenge it.
References are still made in contemporary society with regards to gender and work place appearance. The visceral connection between hair length and "youth, campus riots, unemployed hippies and troublemakers" has been challenged on constitutional grounds. Discussions and opinions on hair length are often connected to the expression of controversial ideas and social protests.